This story is very loosely inspired by Centauri Dawn, but no knowledge of the novels is required for understanding it. (It doesn't even work with the book's plot.)

Trying to ignore the stitch in his side, Victor hurried to the command centre. Part of him wanted to stop, catch his breath, delay the inevitable, but it was most unwise to leave Corazon Santiago waiting. She was already going to be displeased.

His mother's summons hadn't mentioned it, but Victor had flunked yet another basic training. Some instructors set him up, either because they thought the son of Santiago ought to be capable of great things or because they held some grudge against his mother, but Sargent Li had been fair. She was even quite nice, as Spartan basic training instructors went. At least he hadn't broken any bones this time.

The soldiers at the heavily reinforced outer door took a moment to sneer at Victor, then let him in. The inner door was guarded by Voki, his mother's perfect protégée, the child she surely wished she would have had. Her presence was certain to signify something, but what? Voki smiled at him. "On you go, Victor."

"General Santiago." Victor saluted as the door closed behind him.

It was late in the day, and Corazon was sitting alone in the room. She looked up from her reports to survey Victor coolly. "At ease, soldier."

Victor took the position, but did not feel that way.

"Take a seat and read this."

He obeyed. It was a mission briefing, and his name stood on the shortlist of assigned personnel, the odd one out among the finest Spartans. They were to perform a commando raid on Lab Three, the University base nearest the Spartan border, to steal equipment and databases. He didn't have to read much more to know what it would mean. "It's suicide for me and I would be a liability to the mission." Hopefully it wasn't obvious that the former bothered him more.

Corazon nodded once. "At least you are not a fool. Officially, you are to die a hero's death."

"And unofficially?" Unofficially, they would slit his throat somewhere in the border wastes, if they didn't simply take away his rebreather and watch him asphyxiate.

Corazon looked at a map. "I don't want my son to throw his life away for nothing. The others assigned to the mission will be told you were killed beforehand, as not to hinder them. They are loyal enough to me to believe that and stick to the official version. In reality, Survival Base needs more personnel and I have prepared three identities for you."

She handed him a datapad. "Isaac the novice farmer, Rubén the apprentice crèche minder, or Juan who is about to start training as a medic. Chose one."

Relief flooded through him, and with it came the urge to cry. He looked intently at the datapad. It would be better not to feel such things at all, but trying to hide tears was still better than letting go completely. "Thank you," he said quietly, not sure if he should address her as general or mother.

"Those are the names of my father and my brothers," Corazon said almost as quietly. Victor didn't know how to respond to that. His mother never talked about her own youth and it seemed a dangerous topic to ask about.

Corazon pressed on before he had to answer anyway. "The Spartans need people like you. The strong may do as they will, but an army famously marches on its stomach. And that is only the very beginning of the support staff needed. The list is nearly endless, and their shortage is holding the Spartan Federation back. If I had my way, I'd give you a medal for scrubbing toilets, just to get the point across."

Victor had scrubbed plenty of toilets on punishment detail. And if so many workers were needed, she could have asked him what he would have liked to be. Not that he knew.

"Unfortunately, that is not something where I can get my way. There are too many influential Spartans searching me for weakness, and I will ensure there are none to find. In time, I will kill them for daring to look, but new competitors will follow. Life is struggle.

"My son would not have to have been the perfect soldier, but you would have to have been capable."

Victor knew better than to point out that she was the driving force behind their society. "I would like to work in the crèches." He was young, and still had plenty of time to change his mind, free from his mother's legacy.

"Excellent." Corazon entered something into her datapad. "Your new identity is ready. Voki will help you with the rest of the coordination."

Then she reached out and took his hand. "This is farewell."

"I suppose so."

Corazon let go again. "It is. If you you should ever claim to be my son, I shall look you in the eye, announce that Victor Santiago died raiding Lab Three and kill you. Understood?"

Victor forced himself to look at her. "Yes, General."

The End